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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 03/15/2004
Volume 2, #117

In New York City, where keeping a car is a kind of running acrobatic feat unless you happen to live close to a public garage and can afford it, I have a friend who will walk three blocks to pick up his car to drive two blocks to buy a crate of oranges and bring them to his door. We are a car culture. So is the whole western world, but nowhere as in the US. As readers of this column know, I have a car that actually takes me back in time. I get behind the wheel here in Canada, and next thing I know, I'm in the Sixth Avenue Cafeteria in the Greenwich Village of the late forties where I often run into my old friend, Clark Kent. Not to mention other well known Villagers such as the painters De Hirsh Margolies and Max Schnitzler.

The truth is, however, that my magical little Nissan Sentra is showing its age. If I have to drive into Ottawa some forty miles away from home to get a bone scan or an MRI. the old Sentra isn't as reliable as it used to be. So I'm getting rid of it. Very regretfully, of course. But, since my wife and I are also showing our age, I need a larger vehicle so Kay can lie down in the back seat because she has a spinal problem that prevents her sitting upright for too long. So I'm getting a car that's a bit bigger than the sub-compact Sentra. I'm going for a Ford Focus sedan where there's a back seat wide enough for Kay to stretch out at ease.

Of course, I don't mean I'm buying an ordinary car this time. I always buy what looks like an ordinary car, but because I have a certain kind of rare vision which supposedly has appeared for generations in the Schwartz family, producing surgeons who can cut into the human body at places where only a kind of second sight can find its way (it's true, and one of my surgeon cousins was in fact head of the New York County medical society some decades back) or lawyers who can find missing old documents by walking into a library and simply moving straight toward where the material has been hidden away on some obscure shelf, or even like my old Aunt Charlotte who always knew exactly what I wanted for Chanukah or Christmas without my ever having told anybody, and bring it as a surprise. So the Nissan thing, you might say, runs in the family. So when I buy a new car, I look for certain hidden qualities that exist in certain cars, that only my particular Schwartz genes know how to locate. But believe me, cars do have mysterious qualities that neither the manufacturers nor the eventual owners ever become aware of.

How do they get there and who puts them there? Well, as I said, this is a car culture and any culture tends to produce certain epiphenomena that only that culture possesses--otherwise you couldn't really call it a true culture. In fact, culture itself is best defined as an epiphenomenological event, a subject I'll try to cover in more detail in a subsequent column. Here, I'll just say that the one comics writer who understood and made use of that fact was the late Charles Schultz .Those who want to explore this further on their own should certainly look into the writings of the great German sociologist, Paul Tillich, especially his "Theology of Culture" [Oxford University Press, New York 1959])

Anyway, I went out looking for a car that not only would serve my wife's physical needs, but possess its own secret magic, something that's not tied to a specific make or model, and I found it. Just north of where I live in Chesterville, Ontario, there's a small town called Embrun. It's mostly French speaking. I walked into a Ford dealership there and I was able to "sniff" out just such a special car. Unlike the Nissan, this one wouldn't take me to the Sixth Avenue Cafeteria. But it would take me into parallel worlds, that is, in driving it, I could move from this world into an identical one but where the history was just a bit different. What makes this interesting is the fact that one might be able to discover at first hand what might have happened in THIS world if we had taken a slightly different course or responded to a problem in a different way. Now this isn't some wild idea I'm passing off here. The notion of parallel worlds is very much alive in respectable scientific circles and I expect that my new Ford Focus sedan might be able to provide them (and you) with some very interesting material. So watch for this column next week and find out what might have been if we had just changed our perspective a little bit. And how much wider our choices are in the present moment than most of us imagine.

--Alvin

<< 03/08/2004 | 03/15/2004 | 03/29/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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